How to Encourage More In-Person Attendance for Trade Shows Post-COVID

August 13, 2021

Emily Newton

Emily Newton is an experienced industrial journalist who regularly covers news and trends in manufacturing and related sectors. As Editor-in-Chief of media platform Revolutionized, she’s always exploring the impact technology has on different industries.

The trade show industry struggled over the past year as COVID-19 restricted travel and in-person attendance. Now, as vaccines roll out in force and restrictions loosen, the prospect of in-person trade shows seems viable once again. Still, the path forward may not be clear.

Even as the pandemic fades, concerns over event safety will likely linger for some time. Similarly, some would-be attendees may now prefer virtual trade show experiences after becoming accustomed to them. These trends pose a challenge to trade show organizers, but you can work around them.

Here are five ways you can encourage more in-person attendance for post-COVID trade shows.

Ensure Visitor Safety

Perhaps the most crucial step in organizing an in-person trade show post-COVID is ensuring health and safety. A recent poll revealed that 60% of trade show attendees say it’s too early to decide when they’d feel comfortable attending in-person again. With so many people concerned about their health, ensuring safe events is crucial.

Keeping stalls and exhibits at least six feet apart is an easy, straightforward way to promote event safety. Similarly, requiring temperature checks before entering may help assuage some visitors’ lingering concerns. Extra steps like requiring unvaccinated guests to continue wearing masks can provide another layer of protection and comfort.

You may want to work with nearby hotels and airports to create a “bubble” system for international travelers. Depending on the time and location of your event, this may even be necessary under government regulations. Steps that aren’t legally required are still valuable, though, as they can help guests feel safe.

Promote Interactive Experiences

Aside from safety, one of the most significant barriers to in-person attendance is the convenience of virtual events. Some attendees, now used to online trade shows, may feel there’s little need to attend in-person anymore. The key to attracting these visitors is zeroing in on what virtual trade shows can’t offer: hands-on interaction.

More than 80% of trade show attendees have buying authority at their company, and virtual experiences aren’t ideal for trying new products. If your show floor features plenty of hands-on exhibits where guests can test products and services themselves, it presents an enticing opportunity.

Companies that haven’t been able to try potential investments before buying them will appreciate the interaction. Promoting these hands-on experiences as part of the in-person trade show will draw people away from their virtual comfort zones.

Emphasize Event Location and Experience

After more than a year remaining mostly in one place, many professionals are likely eager to travel again. One survey found that 72% of American consumers plan to travel in 2021, and 28% of workers plan to travel now that they work remotely. You can capitalize on these trends by emphasizing the leisure aspects of your event.

An exciting location or unique travel experience will help entice attendees who may be on the fence. Even if an in-person trade show doesn’t excite them, the prospect of a mini-vacation might. Promoting the tourism aspects of your location, like nearby restaurants, landmarks, and activities, will help attract these visitors.

To help in this area, you may consider partnering with nearby hotels or tourist attractions. Hosting post-show events like tours or culinary experiences will further emphasize the show’s potential for fun, not just business.

Offer Giveaways and Gifts

Similarly, you can further encourage in-person attendance by running giveaways or offering complimentary gifts. Depending on how far removed from the pandemic your event is, this may have to look different from the giveaways of the past. You can use that to your advantage, though, by rethinking gifts to offer a unique experience.

Instead of handing off gifts, you could offer them in packages to mail to attendees. This alternative both minimizes health risks from shared surfaces and creates opportunities for a more enticing experience. Guests could customize what they want in their gift packages instead of everyone receiving the same thing.

Customizable gift packages are more enticing than a standard offering, helping encourage more in-person attendance. Sending them as a thank-you for attending after the event will also build loyalty for future conferences.

When Going Hybrid, Diversify Offerings

Events happening right on the heels of the pandemic may want to opt for a hybrid approach. Offering both an in-person trade show and a virtual experience can help maximize overall attendance, but you should take care in doing so. You can make sure your virtual attendance doesn’t cannibalize in-person visits by separating what each experience offers.

If you communicate distinct value propositions for each part of the hybrid experience, you can avoid an entirely online event. Attendees have to know they’ll get something unique and enticing by going in person. Otherwise, they’ll likely prefer attending online out of convenience or lingering health concerns.

To maximize in-person attendance, favor your unique in-person experiences in your promotional materials. Promote what sets the in-person show apart and emphasize its exclusive offerings. Some guests may want to attend online but will attend the in-person alternative anyway if it has more to offer.

These Steps Will Revitalize In-Person Trade Shows

It will probably take a long time, even a few years, for trade shows to reach their pre-pandemic levels. If you’re organizing an event in the near future or plan to when COVID-19 levels drop further, you must account for this challenge. These steps can help you mitigate lingering concerns to promote in-person attendance.

While in-person trade shows suffered amid the pandemic, they won’t go away entirely. If event organizers work to minimize risks while creating new and exciting experiences, in-person attendance can recover faster.

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